Everything from here on out is just gravy for the McPherson American Legion baseball team.
By winning the Kansas American Legion Class A state championship last Sunday, Post 24 has qualified for the eight-team Mid States Tournament that begins Thursday in Leavenworth, the same site of their monumental achievement.
McPherson, 28-7 and winners of 23 of its last 25 games, opens at 1 p.m. against the Texas state champion. There are five out-of-state teams in the field and three from Kansas, including tourney host and automatic qualifier Leavenworth and the Kansas Senators, a team McPherson coach Tony Schmidt believes to be from Topeka.
Schmidt admits his team is taking somewhat of a different mindset into this tournament.
“We accomplished what we set out to do,” he said, noting a state championship was the No. 1 goal. “I look at these as bonus games. I don’t want our guys to finish the season with a bad taste in their mouths, but it’s pretty cool to play the Texas state champion.”
The state championship was the first Legion title since 1975 when McPherson won the bigger-class event. It was the first Class A title in 60 years, having won the 1954 tournament. What made the accomplishment even more special was that Post 24 became the first team in the 33 years of the Class A tourney to lose the first game, then come back and win six straight, a testament to the team’s pitching depth and character.
Micah McCulley, who was credited with three of the six state wins including stay-alive games against Dodge City and Salina and the title game against Andover, will be handed the ball for the opener. Marcus McDaniel and Caleb Schmidt will be the next options, then there’s always state hero Jack Reifschneider, who was a lifesaver in relief at state with three quality appearances.
Post 24 will be without speedy outfielder Kolby Reed, who is not available, and while tournament rules say the team can pick up additional players within the state, Schmidt chose only to add a player from Junction City, outfielder Christian Ozores, who played for new McPherson High coach Heath Gerstner.
“We’re going with the kids who got us here,” Schmidt said. “We could have added more, but these are our guys. We’re pretty tired and it’s been long summer. We’re just going to enjoy this tournament.”
McPherson seemingly got stronger offensively at state as it got deeper into opposing teams’ pitching staffs. It pounded out 15 hits in the 10-3 championship-game victory over Andover and for the tournament, six players were near or over the .500 mark.